Smith won’t opt out childcare but plans to squeeze Ottawa for more

A two-page memo dated Oct. 27 to all ministers from Premier Daniel Smith about Federal Engagement states the government will be discussing a push-back strategy, with the Alberta Sovereignty Act being a critical part.

Smith calls for a united front in all negotiations with the federal government and to stand ground when federal policies and funding threaten Alberta’s interests.

Alberta will seek unconditional block transfers where possible and will request early, open and transparent engagement from Ottawa on proposed actions in order to make Alberta a senior partner within a strong and unified Canada.

One such program that could be in question is the Alberta-Canada Early Learning and Child Care agreement, which provides $10-a-day childcare. The NDP implemented a provincial $25/day childcare pilot program, which was terminated by the UCP government in 2019.

The Globe and Mail of Oct. 28 says Smith told media the agreement “invalidated Alberta’s jurisdiction by dictating how the service must be run and was unfair because Quebec was not subject to the same conditions.”

Following a release from the NDP calling on Smith to guarantee the childcare deal won’t be terminated, Smith provided a statement to the News via email.

“Our government has always been committed to accessible, affordable and high-quality childcare. Although we will not be opting out of the federal program, I have asked the Minister of Affordability and Utilities to meet with the federal government to request funding similar to Quebec to address the expansion and further participation of private operators in the Alberta-Canada Early Learning and Child Care agreement.

“As your MLA, I will make sure every operator gets the support they need to help develop and care for our children.”

Gwendoline Dirk, NDP Candidate for Brooks-Medicine Hat, is concerned about Smith’s actions, which she says show more interest in political games than providing what families need.

In a statement made by email, Dirk stated, “Smith could cost parents hundreds more per month in childcare fees during a time residents here are already struggling to make ends meet.

“Having affordable, accessible and quality childcare is essential for families to be able to go to work, go to school and ensure their children are cared for. Danielle Smith is not looking out for families, and she is not looking out for the residents of Brooks-Medicine Hat.”

Leader of the Alberta Party, Barry Morishita, has grandchildren who were preschoolers up until this year and understands how much childcare costs families. The result, he says, is many opt to stay at home, depleting those available in the workforce at a time when employers in southeast Alberta are struggling to fill positions.

It’s not only about creating good programming for Morishita, but also more spaces and different options available to parents. Shift workers and others who don’t work the standard five-day-a-week job often struggle to access childcare, with many providers requiring signing up for months at a time. Even if a parent has the summer off they could be reluctant to give up their space as they might not get it back again come September.

“The blanket statement that you are just going to opt out of everything from Ottawa,” continued Morishita, “that makes no sense. Why would we opt out of a program that advantages Alberta? We hear on one hand, we don’t get enough of our money back and then Ottawa comes to the table with money for a program and we say we aren’t going to do it, because why? That is why you need to have a thoughtful, considered approach to all those agreements with Ottawa and make sure they do advantage Alberta.”

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SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News